10 November 2012

An Instance of Strangeness in English

Leeds (Merrion Centre)_2010

By now, the reason for the title of this blog – The Book is in the Tablet – must be clear. It doesn’t particularly deviate from any normal grammatical structure of English but clearly departs from the well-known sentence the book is on the table – sentence that many learners of English must be familiarised with. Just to be neat-picky, you may point out that we don’t really have book in tablets but e-books; so, the normal (logical) sentence should be the e-book is in the tablet. Regardless, this title stands as an instance of deviation from the well-known sentence that, as I believe, learners of English will instantly grasp.
“So, it’s linguistic strangeness ish.” You may say.
Indeed, linguistic strangeness is not a clear-cut concept. When David Crystal wrote “that it is normal linguistic behaviour in most linguistic situations to depart from what is conceived of as a norm for that context”, he actually put this in a form of a hypothesis “in its strongest form possible” (1). In order to support his hypothesis, Crystal highlights a few instances of strange linguistic behaviour that can be noticed in everyday settings.
Here is one of them:
‘Nonsensical expressions’ are sounds which speakers utter at a moment of sudden emotion. One such, noted by Crystal, is Shplumfnooeeah – shouted by a man when he was hit by a broomstick. Nonsensical expressions, like the example given, are varied and complex. Nonetheless, many of them are well-known and formally acknowledged in dictionaries.
Doh! that Homer Simpson shouts in The Simpsons (Fox), is a perfect example of this (Video). Boom! Boom! is another expression constantly yelled by Basil Brush (BBC) (Video). And who can forget the Yeehaw (also Yeehah) from the theme Good Ol Boys from The Dukes of Hazzard (Video). Wahoo, Yahoo, Whoopee, and Yippee are listed in the Concise OED as an expression of “great/ wild excitement or joy”. Other such expressions listed in the OED are: Aargh (horror, rage), aha/ ho (triumph, surprise), hooray/ hurrah (celebration), oh (disappointment, joy), oho (pleasant surprise), pooh (disgust, impatience), wow/ woowe (astonishment, admiration).
“Strange ish” you may say again.
Indeed, Crystal’s states: “…Strangeness is Familiarity.” We can always agree that Shplumfnooeeah is hardly an expression that you or I would use. But if it became popular like the Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker! that John McClane (Bruce Willis) says in Die Hard (Video), we would be less shy to shout Shplumfnooeeah!
1. Crystal, David. 1990.Linguistic strangeness.” In Margaret Bridges (ed.), On strangeness. SPELL, 5. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1990. 13-24. (Check Post 1).

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